EAST LANSING, Mich. â€“ Michigan State senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a consensus first-team All-American and 2013 Jim Thorpe Award (nationâ€™s best defensive back) winner, has been selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 2014 National Football League Draft on Thursday, May 8. Dennard becomes Michigan Stateâ€™s 34th first-round selection and the first since wide receiver Charles Rogers went second overall to the Detroit Lions in 2003.
The 5-11, 197-pound Dennard becomes the first defensive player from Michigan State to be drafted in the first round since linebacker Julian Peterson was selected No. 16 overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2000. In addition, he becomes the first Spartan defensive back to be picked in the first round since Herb Adderley in 1961 (No. 12 overall by the Green Bay Packers). Michigan State has had at least once player chosen every year since the inception of the common NFL Draft in 1967.
Dennard also was selected recipient of the Jack Tatum Award, presented to college footballâ€™s best defensive back by The Touchdown Club of Columbus. In addition, he was named one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (presented to the nationâ€™s top defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America).
The Dry Branch, Ga., native was chosen the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second year in a row in 2013. A unanimous first-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches, he was named Big Ten Defensive MVP by ESPN.com and CollegeFootballNews.com.
Dennard finished the season ranked fourth on the team with a career-high 62 tackles, including 3.5 for loss (8 yards). He led the team and ranked sixth in the Big Ten with 14 passes defended, and also tied for the team lead with four interception and 10 pass break-ups.
Dennard was one of the main reasons Michigan State finished No. 1 in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in pass efficiency defense (92.3 rating), No. 2 in total defense (252.2 ypg.) and No. 3 in pass defense (165.6 ypg.).
â€œThe first thing the Cincinnati organization can expect from Darqueze Dennard is a very professional attitude in his general lifestyle and preparation,â€ Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. â€œHe brings the right attitude and effort to work every day. Heâ€™s a recent graduate of Michigan State. Darqueze had a 3.66 grade-point average this semester, and thatâ€™s just another indicator of his work ethic. He continues to strive for excellence,
â€œDarqueze has tremendous ball skills, and heâ€™s extremely quick. Most people donâ€™t know that he had a hamstring injury going into the NFL Combine and he still ran a respectable 40. With that injury behind him, heâ€™ll run as fast as anyone on the football field. In addition, heâ€™s a great tackler. During his college career, Darqueze played every position in the secondary: star, safety, boundary corner and field corner.
â€œHe has â€˜it.â€™ Darqueze possesses all of those intangibles that allow him to gain ground and constantly improve as a player. Heâ€™s an extremely humble young man, and heâ€™s going to be an asset in the Greater Cincinnati community.â€
Dennard was named to ESPN.comâ€™s Big Ten All-Bowl Team after helping the Spartan defense limit No. 5 Stanford to its third-lowest offensive output of the season in the 24-20 victory over the Cardinal in the 100th Rose Bowl Game; the Cardinal threw for just 143 yards, its second-lowest total of the season. He also produced three stops, including a 2-yard tackle for loss.
Dennard recorded three tackles, two pass break-ups and forced a fumble in Michigan State’s 34-24 win over No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans limited the Buckeyes to 25 total yards in the fourth quarter, including zero passing yards, as MSU rallied from a 24-20 deficit to claim a BCS berth in the Rose Bowl.
On Senior Day against Minnesota in his last appearance at Spartan Stadium, Dennard tied his career high with nine tackles and also broke up a pass.
He recorded a career-best nine tackles and an interception in MSUâ€™s 30-6 victory at Northwestern, as the Spartans claimed the Big Ten Legends Division title for the second time in three seasons. It marked Dennardâ€™s personal best fourth interception of the season and 10th of his career. MSUâ€™s defense pitched a shutout in the second half against the Wildcats while allowing just seven first downs and 95 total yards.
Dennard produced an impressive all-around effort in the win over No. 23 Michigan, as MSU held the Wolverines out of the end zone for the second consecutive season. He picked off a Devin Gardner pass at the 3-yard line in the fourth quarter, and the Spartans proceeded to march 97 yards on an eight-play touchdown drive to seal the 29-6 victory. Dennard also forced a fumble and collected four tackles against the Wolverines.
He posted seven tackles in Michigan Stateâ€™s 14-0 victory over Purdue, including a half tackle for loss (1 yard). MSUâ€™s defense recorded its first shutout since 2011 (44-0 over Florida Atlantic) and its first against a Big Ten opponent since 1999 (34-0 at Northwestern).
Dennard totaled five tackles, a quarterback hurry and a pass break-up in MSUâ€™s 42-28 Homecoming win over Indiana, as the Spartans limited IU to season lows in passing offense (259 yards) and total offense (351). The Hoosiers entered the game ranked ninth in the nation in total offense (535.0 ypg.) and 10th in passing offense (346.0 ypg.).
Dennard was selected Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after recording eight tackles and a career-high two interceptions in MSUâ€™s 26-14 win at Iowa. The Spartan defense limited the Hawkeyes to 264 total yards â€“ 183 yards below their season average. In addition, MSU held Iowa to 23 yards rushing (1.4 yards per carry) â€“ 221 yards below its season average. Michigan State shut out the Hawkeyes in the second half, as Iowa managed just six first downs, 6 rushing yards and 104 total yards in the final two quarters. Dennardâ€™s second interception at the 5:25 mark in the fourth quarter helped ice the game, and it marked the third multi-interception game of his career (2012 Outback Bowl vs. Georgia, 2012 vs. Nebraska).
Dennard started three years at cornerback for the Spartans. He collected 167 tackles and 30 passes defended (20 pass break-ups, 10 interceptions) in 44 career games, including 40 starts (29 consecutive to close out career). Dennard finished his career ranked tied for 11th in MSU history with 10 interceptions.